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Written by our therapist Kalina Black.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.. Or Is It?

The idea of sitting around the dinner table for a specially prepared meal during the holidays can feel appetizing to some but quite unappealing and highly stressful to others. For some, unpleasant memories of criticism, harsh physical & emotional discipline, and silenced norms about culture, gender, and race may abound and manifest itself as surface conversations around the dinner table. Thoughts of negative interactions with family or others may stir feelings of “I’d rather not…”, and understandably so. However, though those feelings may exist, the deep desire to achieve a sense of holiday normalcy causes some to engage in uncomfortable interactions with others.

Managing Holiday Expectations

The media portrays the idea of what a well spent holiday “should look like”. Pre COVID, our media outlets provided the perfect space to brag to the world about our projected comforts. On one hand, social media provides the opportunity to show and receive appreciation from close friends and family, but on the other hand, social media promotes opportunities for comparison, competition and outright social bullying to our distant connections. “Idolize me”, we say, without saying it, out of our desires to be admired by others. 

Holiday Stress And COVID

Now- in the realm of COVID, bragging continues but from a different lens. Socially removed, friends & family portray smiles of “I’ve moved on without you” as they stand in front of holiday trimmings. They attempt to show some sense of normalcy in light of the present reality; that they are happy and are enjoying the holidays. Pressures regarding a “well-spent holiday” are not only given off from family and friends. They are further magnified in media by Hollywood stars & athletes who promote images of the excess resources they collect, which make contentment even more difficult for some, as they compare themselves to an unreachable standard. These pressures contribute to increased feelings of holiday stress.

Recommendations for coping with holiday stresses:

In this difficult time of adjustment for many, how then do we properly process feelings of separation, isolation and discontent with what it is? How do we also manage our desires for true & genuine connections, and not focus on comparing ourselves and our lives to others?

Here are some recommendations to minimize holiday stresses and help us get through the holidays in a healthy & affirming way:

1. Limit social media intake — avoid scrolling first thing in the morning and right before bedtime (what we take in at the start of our day sets the tone for the rest of the day; likewise what we allow our minds to take in before bed, can set the tone for the night: good sleep or inability to sleep well)

2. Pay attention to your body’s responses— If sitting near a distant relative or former friend at a holiday get together sends your body or mind into emotional distress— give yourself space— whether that means choosing:

  • a seat distanced away (you don’t have to sit next to someone that stresses you out:)
  • choosing when or who to visit with (i.e. will you visit before or after the holiday. Will you visit in small gatherings vs. large gatherings) 
  • how you visit (will you visit in person or online/phone)— you have the right to choose.

3. Pack a self-care supply kit in advance— prepare your best music & movie collections, new/revisited journals, aromatherapy products, favorite meals, warm drinks and creative art tools for that pre/post recovery period around, during and after the holidays.

4.Be kind to yourself—aim to accept your reality as it is; focus on what is in your control to change. Practice Self-Love, Kindness & Compassion. We all need it. And there’s no time like the present.

A healthy perspective to holiday stress relief

Many of us are often encouraged to silence our true emotions and portray an expression of contentment, especially during the holidays. The more we distance ourselves from our true feelings, the more unsettled, removed and numb we are at risk of becoming, and increase holiday stresses felt. 

Though 2020 has been difficult- let’s make this last month of the year one of our better months.  Let’s allow ourselves to be a little kinder, more thoughtful, less comparative, and less boastful. Let’s also have a fuller spirit of humility & generosity and treat ourselves with self love & compassion. We’re all in this together. We’ve all been through this year together. Let’s travel through it, stronger and wiser.

Let us treasure each moment with gratitude for the life we have this holiday season- even if it may be filled with challenges. Let us also send out our appreciation in memory of those loved ones near and far who have passed on from this pandemic. Lastly, let us welcome a collective approach to a new year full of wellness & genuine relationships with family & friends. Relationships packed with trust, kindness & support and overall global healing. One day at a time…

God bless you & Happy Holidays to All

Ms. Kalina Black, LMSW 

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